By Inesha Jackson
Kayla Wilkes, a Canton native, is hoping to inspire others through her scholastic achievements. Wilkes is the former valedictorian of the Canton High School class of 2018 and is a recent Summa Cum Laude graduate of Jackson State University (JSU). The scholar led the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology as one of their student marshals with a 4.0 grade point average. On Friday, December 10, Wilkes received her Bachelor of Science degree in computer science.
“The reason why I chose Jackson State University is actually kind of funny. During my senior year, I had my sights set on other colleges and applied for full scholarships at those institutions. While I was waiting, my counselors, Mrs. Dillard and Ms. Simmons, called me in the office and convinced me to sign the papers to apply for a full-ride scholarship to Jackson State University... I did not receive the scholarships at the other schools, but I did receive a full ride to Jackson State. That ended up being one of the best decisions of my life, and I definitely owe my counselors a thank you,” Wilkes said.
During her time at JSU, Wilkes was very active in many honor societies and mentorship programs on campus. She served as vice president for the Association for Computing Machinery, the historian for the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society, a career exploration officer for Jackson State’s Career Service Center, and a mentor for Honors College Peer-Peer Mentor Program. She was also an active member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Pi Mu Epsilon (Mathematics Honor Society), the National Society of Black Engineers, Mobile Device Forensics Research Group, and JSU’s Honor College.
“While at Jackson State, I joined the Mobile Device Forensics Research Group, where I was able to present a poster presentation at the Women’s Rise Conference in 2019. This poster ended up being peer reviewed and published in the Journal of Higher Education, meaning that I became a published academic author during my undergraduate years,” Wilkes said.
Though Wilkes’ final semester of her undergraduate years at JSU started out rough, she found a way to overcome any adversities.
“During this semester, I lost my grandmother, who was my biggest supporter. She was extremely excited about me graduating from college, and her legacy is what encouraged me to continue when I felt like quitting,” Wilkes said. Her favorite quote to live by is from Roy T. Bennett, “Believe in yourself. You are braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you imagine.”
Wilkes will soon be starting her career with Blue Cross Blue Shield as a technology support specialist, and, in the next two to four years, she plans to advance into cybersecurity/information security.
“I want kids in the community to know that the sky is the limit, no matter where you are from or what your background is. They can achieve and excel in whatever anybody else that comes from a different place can do. Follow your dreams, aim high, and put in the work! Also, don’t be afraid to fail. You miss 100 percent of the shots that you don’t take,” Wilkes said.